What Is Irony?

Definition of "Irony"

Irony is when the reality of something is different to the expectation it generates.

Table of Contents

  • The Three Types of Irony
  • (1) Verbal Irony
  • (2) Dramatic Irony
  • (3) Situational Irony
  • More Examples of Irony
  • Why Irony Is Important
  • Video Lesson
  • Test Time!

The Three Types of Irony

There are three types of irony:
irony examples
Here are some more examples for each type of irony:

(1) Verbal Irony

Verbal irony is an expression (often delivered sarcastically or humorously) to express the opposite of its literal meaning. (It is a synonym for sarcasm.)
  • That's just what I needed. (i.e., It isn't.)
  • I'm so glad it's raining. (i.e., I'm not.)

Formal Definition of Verbal Irony

Verbal irony is the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect. (Oxford Dictionary)

(2) Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony is an event the significance of which is known only to observers (typically, the audience) and not the participants (typically, the actors).
  • There's no evil witch here.
  • (A typical "behind you" moment in a pantomime is an example of dramatic irony.)

Formal Definition of Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony is a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character's words or actions is clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character. (Oxford Dictionary)

(3) Situational Irony

Situational irony is an event that occurs seemingly in mockery of the circumstances.
  • Let's examine the words hyphenated and non-hyphenated.
  • The most shoplifted book in America is the Bible.
  • Your the best English teacher ever.
  • (Should be you're.)

Formal Definition of Situational Irony

Situational irony is a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often wryly amusing as a result. (Oxford Dictionary)

More Examples of Irony

Here are yet more examples of irony:

Example of Verbal Irony

Verbal irony is like sarcasm.
  • "On a scale of 1 to 10, how old was Michael Jackson's boyfriend?"
    "Nice."
  • (Here, "nice" means not classy.)

Example of Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something the characters don't.
  • O my love, my wife! Death, that hath sucked the honey of thy breath hath had no power yet upon thy beauty. Thou art not conquered. Beauty's ensign yet is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks. (Romeo Montague from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet)
  • (Romeo wrongly believes Juliet is dead and prepares to take poison to join her.)

Examples of Situational Irony

Situational irony is an event that happens in mockery of the circumstances.
  • James Bellamy, who has campaigned for years against the Dangerous Dogs Act, was hospitalized after a vicious attack by his brother's dog.
  • Mr Paul Jones arrived too late to chair a town-planning meeting due to the roads being grid locked with traffic.
If you're analysing someone else's writing and they've used irony, you ought to recognize it.

Remember that irony covers far more than just situational irony. Comments and events with a twist, an element of unexpectedness, or some malintent can usually be shoe-horned into one of the irony types. It is not uncommon for people to argue whether something is an example of irony. Here is a short video summarizing the different types of irony: video lesson

Are you a visual learner? Do you prefer video to text? Here is a list of all our grammar videos.

How Ironic!

In the mid-90s, a few nerds enthusiastically claimed that the lyrics in Alanis Morissette's song "Ironic" contained no examples of irony, and, having been routinely lambasted for it, she admitted that the irony of "Ironic" was that it contained no irony at all. The real irony, however, is that it contains plenty of lines that could be classified as irony.
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This page was written by Craig Shrives.